Amazon just announced its first-ever pair of Alexa smart glasses — here’s what it’s like to use them

source
Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

Amazon on Wednesday unveiled its first-ever pair of smart glasses, the Echo Frames, which will be available on an invitation basis for $180.

Amazon isn’t the first tech company to launch a pair of smart glasses, but its approach is vastly different from that of Google or Snap. Unlike Google Glass and Snapchat Spectacles, there’s no camera on the Echo Frames. There’s also no display on the Echo Frames; after all, the main purpose of the glasses is to make it easier to use Alexa on the go without reaching for your smartphone.

Read more: Amazon is releasing its first-ever pair of smart glasses for $180, and they’ll even work with prescription lenses – here’s what they can do

It’s one of three new wearable devices Amazon unveiled during its big event on Wednesday. The company also announced an Alexa-enabled ring called Echo Loop, which, like Echo Frames, is part of the firm’s Day 1 program, which allows customers to try new products and provide feedback to Amazon before they’re ready for broader availability. The company is also releasing a pair of wireless earbuds with Alexa built-in called the Echo Buds.

I had the chance to briefly try out the Echo Frames after Amazon’s event, and here’s what they were like.


How they look and feel

caption
The Amazon Echo Frames being worn.
source
Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

The Echo Frames look a bit larger than most standard eyeglasses, but they feel just as light as any pair of glasses.

They come only in the style pictured above, as they’re part of the Amazon Day 1 program, which indicates Amazon is probably still experimenting with the product and figuring out how people will use it before expanding it. That means those who receive an invitation and decide to purchase the glasses won’t have different styles to choose from.

But the glasses do support prescription lenses, and buyers can adjust the fit of the frames by visiting an eyewear professional, Amazon said.


How they work

source
Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

For the most part, the Echo Frames work just like any other Alexa-enabled product. Simply utter the Alexa wake word and recite your request. I tried asking Alexa about the weather and how tall the Empire State Building is, and her answer came through surprisingly loud and clear, even though I was in a crowded room with a lot of background noise.

Amazon says it uses four beam-forming micro-speakers that direct the sound toward your ears and make it difficult for others around you to hear.

During my brief time using the Echo Frames, however, it was difficult to tell whether or not Alexa was actually listening until she answered my request. I didn’t notice any audible indication that she heard the wake word.

There are also buttons underneath the glasses’ arm that lets you adjust the volume and silence the microphone for times when you may want to turn Alexa off.


What happens when you receive a notification

caption
Swiping along the side of the frames accepts notifications. There are also volume buttons on the arm of the glasses.
source
Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

The Echo Frames also provide notifications from your phone, which you’ll be able to manage through the Alexa app. You can swipe along the side of the glasses to accept a notification or tap it to dismiss it.

When you receive a notification, Alexa will tell you what app the notification is from. If your Ring camera detects activity, for example, Alexa will let you know that there’s an alert from Ring. From there, you can choose to accept or dismiss the notification. The glasses will support notifications from messaging apps and other apps as well.


Overall thoughts

source
Business Insider/Lisa Eadicicco

By releasing the Echo Frames through its Day 1 program, Amazon is positioning its new smart glasses as a sort of experimental product that’s still being refined. And that’s a sensible move for one important reason: The general public doesn’t seem to be very interested in smart glasses just yet.

Amazon is hoping that by building a simple pair of glasses that’s designed to do one thing well, it may eventually have a hit on its hands – unlike Google Glass, which initially tried to reproduce the functionality of your smartphone. But most importantly, the Echo Frames actually look like a normal pair of glasses and are priced similarly to many other high-end frames, making them more accessible than other high-tech eyewear.

Making Alexa more mobile is important for Amazon as it seeks to expand the functionality of its voice-enabled assistant and compete with Google and Apple. Alexa dominates the home with 61% of the smart-speaker market share as of January, according to a study from Voicebot.ai and Voicify.

But if Alexa isn’t widely used elsewhere, it could eventually lose its edge to rivals like the Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, which are in the pockets of smartphone users around the world.